New ‘private bus club’ for business-class workers
The Age, 26 August 2014
A new "private club" commuter bus service will allow Melbourne's white-collar professionals to shun the unsavoury aspects of public transport but the business' founder has denied it will create a commuter class divide. Next month the start-up company SuitJet will begin ferrying professionals in and out of the CBD every morning and evening.
After all, as one potential customer said at Tuesday's launch, "You never know who you're going to be sitting next to on the train".
The company has a fleet of three Mercedes-Benz customised coaches named after Melbourne Cup winning horses but could quickly expand that to 20 within a number of weeks, using surplus Dysons Bus Services vehicles.
The buses will leave from select suburban hotel car parks and sporting grounds and arrive at dropoff points in the CBD and Docklands, with the first pick-up locations to be driven by customer demand.
Early signs indicate the business may find its biggest market in areas let down by yawning underinvestment in the state's public transport infrastructure.
SuitJet co-founder Darren Heiberg said the highest number of registrations of interest had come from Mernda in the outer north and Caroline Springs in the outer west.
Both these postcodes are without a railway station and although one has been pledged for Caroline Springs by 2016, no funding commitment has been made for the Mernda rail extension.
Whittlesea mayor Mary Lalios said "residents shouldn't have to rely on private transport".
Public Transport Users Association president Tony Morton said a lot of outer suburb residents could not access good-quality public transport but they might not necessarily want to travel into the city or be able to pay for a private fare.
A return ticket on SuitJet will cost $30, more than double the maximum myki fee but Mr Heiberg denied the service would create a class divide. The former Jetstar executive said he was already seriously considering changing the name of the company to remove the "suit" reference.
"I was quite nervous about calling it SuitJet. The demographic is white-collar workers, everyone from the receptionist to the junior accountant through to the middle management," he said.
Mr Heiberg said the express "business class" service would mean professionals would be able to spend an hour answering their emails in a productive environment instead of being stuck behind the wheel.
"That's an hour of work you don't have to do after having dinner with the kids and a cup of tea with your wife," he said.
"Public transport is too successful in that demand exceeds supply, and that's leading to people seeking new alternatives."
Glen Waverley events manager Sara Hale has registered for SuitJet. She said she often could not get a seat on public transport and only this week she had to deal with a fellow commuter who was "rude and abrupt".
She wished she could travel to work in "more style and comfort".
In San Francisco private buses for Google employees have been targeted by protesters who say they get in the way of municipal buses.